Just a few weeks ago, I was seriously considering taking a hiatus from running. I was midway through day 3 of the TransRockies Run3, a 3-day stage run. During the first two days of the event I’d covered 34 miles and climbed 5700′ at elevations ranging from 7000-12,000′. Here I was, on day 3, somewhere along the 2nd half of a 24-mile course and having stomach issues. Yes, indeed, thoughts of not running for a while were making me very happy.
Although the TransRockies Run had been on my calendar for over 2 years, I hadn’t been on any runs longer than 16 miles and half of that 16 miles was an uphill power hike. As far as back-to-back long runs go, I’d done two in preparation. My anxiety was exacerbated by the weather forecast as I watched it roll out a series of thunderstorms, typical for summer in the mountains of Colorado. To fill you in, you should know that I’ve developed some post traumatic stress issues over the past few years from being out and about in the wrong places during some wild thunderstorms, so as I headed off to run the TransRockies I was opting for a bear encounter (or several) over lightning, as if I had a choice.
Stage 1 (20.8 miles, 2500′ of elevation gain):
This stage is typically a hot one although it was definitely cooler this year than it has been in years past. At a much lower elevation than the remaining stages, the course seems to primarily follow double track or dirt roads, meaning there are many open areas without much shade to be found. I have a very unhappy relationship with blazing sunshine after having lived in Las Vegas for 25 years. Although I recently moved away, I still haven’t quite recovered.
We started out on Stage 1 from Main Street in Buena Vista and from here ran briefly on pavement to a footbridge crossing the Arkansas River. A traffic jam was created as the crowd funneled onto a narrow footbridge. On the other side of the footbridge was a singletrack, uphill trail. Runners were packed in tightly on the trail with no room to run. We were all forced into a march up the hill until the course opened up into double track.
Checkpoint 1 was 7 miles from the start and also at the highest point of the course. It seemed to take me forever to get there. Two of us girls waited there for our 3rd girlfriend who was struggling up the hill as I had been. Upon her arrival, we quickly headed back out with about 14 miles to go.
I don’t remember much in detail about the course from CP1 to C2 and CP3. I do remember that it was sunny and quite warm, we went through sandy washes and up over rolling hillsides, through an area with a creek or marsh and lots of mosquitoes, and that there were some really great views. Between the sun exposure and the dirt roads/double track, I have to say that this was definitely not my favorite stage. No matter how beautiful I found the scenery to be, I struggled.
The last 4 miles, from CP3 to the finish, were flat and on a wide dirt road. There was a bit of vehicle traffic on this road but all were cautious and polite, and they tried to not dust us as they passed by. We were fortunate on this section to have some clouds occasionally drift in front of the sun, giving us a little break. Even so, I ended up power walking this entire section in to the finish. No matter how badly I wanted to run and be done, I couldn’t get my legs to move much faster. Even so, I managed to pass a couple of people on this section and upon hitting the finish line I headed straight to the river to soak before catching the shuttle to camp.
Stage 2 (13.4 miles, 3200′ of elevation gain):
Having been allowed to run stage 2 a couple of years back when I was an “embedded trail reporter” for GORE, I was super excited to be doing it again. The scenery is spectacular and this stage feels a bit magical to me. I’m not sure if it’s the spectacular course, the elevation, the views, or knowing of those greats who’ve been there before. Likely, it’s a combination of all of these.
This stages starts from Vicksburg, about a 30-minute shuttle ride from camp. We ran a gravel road approximately 1.7 miles to CP1, which lies at the beginning of the singletrack heading up to Hope Pass. The last time I ran this, the gravelly road section seemed to go on and on but this time it went by quickly and I soon found myself caught in the slow flow of other heavy breathers trudging along in a zone that didn’t offer up room enough or adequate oxygen for passing. We stayed together in a little group. When the person in the front got tired they would step aside to let the rest of the group pass, then they would fall in line at the back of the pack. We worked our way up to Hope Pass in this fashion, gradually spreading out farther and farther apart as we neared the top.
At the pass, cameras were passed around and many a picture snapped; no one wanted to miss out on such an amazing (what may be a once-in-a-lifetime for some) photo op.
One might think the uphill climb to the pass is the toughest part of this stage, it certainly would appear so, and I think that’s the part that most of us were worried about. However, the remainder of that stage wasn’t exactly cake either. Rocky, gravelly singletrack and wide open exposure teamed together with gravity to pull you down from the pass– ready or not. It was slippery, steep, and loose but only for a short while. When the rocky steepness eased up enough to allow for longer strides, my feet pounded that trail so hard it seemed the ground should be shaking. At times I felt like a train, churning down the hill and picking up momentum as I went. Other times found me engaged in a graceful dance with the terrain beneath me, the rocky trail as my partner effortlessly guiding me along.
There was so much downhill during this stage that this dirty girl and lover of the downhill actually started enjoying the little uphill segments that came along. They allowed me to ease off on the concentration game and also gave my legs a much-needed break.
Having taken so long to complete this stage the last time I was here, (I had been taking pictures and video along the way) this time I wanted to finish it out a bit quicker. I’m happy to say I did just that and was quite pleased with my performance, especially so following my incredibly long, 21-mile slog the day prior.
After crossing the finish line, we grabbed some snacks and went off for a short soak in the lake. Thunder rumbled in the distance and a few raindrops hit while we waited in line for the shuttle to take us to camp.
Stage 3 (24.3 miles, 2700′ of elevation gain):
Day 3 was finally here, it had been taunting me for days. I’d barely done any back-to-back days ever and here I was about to start on the third day in a row of long, challenging runs. I had no doubts about finishing, just uncertainty as to how long I’d be out there, how my legs (which felt great so far) would hold up, weather, etc.
It was chilly in Leadville at the start but a beautiful day it was. We headed out from downtown Leadville on pavement, connecting with Highway 24 and running alongside it. I think I mentioned before that I’m not a lover of pavement runs, fortunately this only lasted for about 2.5 miles before we started climbing on a dirt road. While the rest of my body felt great, just a bit tired, my stomach decided it was done with this race stuff. It felt heavy and made me completely uncomfortable, which slowed me to a walk for more miles than I would have liked.
We dodged many a mud puddle during this stage and went through long sections of muddy roads with mud so thick in places we would slide around while struggling to remain upright. There were also a few more significant creek crossings along this stage but my shoes (Brooks Adrenaline ASR 11) and socks (Icebreaker) drained well and dried quickly, keeping me from getting any hot spots or blisters.
CP2 was at Ski Cooper and we left there on a short section of pavement, crossing Highway 24 at Tennessee Pass on the Continental Divide. I was super excited knowing we were running the Continental Divide/Colorado Trails and my stomach apparently was happy too as the discomfort faded away here. Luckily so, because we got onto some singletrack trails so beautiful and fun that I would have cried had I been forced to walk them. They were flowy, yet at times root-filled and rocky, fun stuff to run. I snapped back to life here.
For the last hour and a half or so of my run, rain fell steadily but softly. I got into a groove behind a male/female team and stayed with them as we hauled butt down some sweet trails and in to CP3. From here it was only another 3 miles down dirt road to the finish line and camp.
Earlier in the day, I’d offered up to the weather gods a pummeling on these last 3 miles in (I was even willing to suffer through a thunderstorm on this last section) in exchange for lightning staying at bay during the early parts of the stage when we were higher up and more exposed. So, it was no surprise to me to find headwinds pushing against me and raindrops pelting my face as I left CP3.
I could see the finish line way off in the distance and I broke down and cried for a minute. I was almost done. We (my 2 girlfriends and I) had done this. I knew one of my friends was ahead of me and likely done already and I knew one was still working her way along behind me and that she would eventually power her way to the finish as well. I was filled with pride for all of us. We had gone into this with each of us tormented by our own fears; fears of not having trained enough, of not making time cutoffs, of our bodies breaking down, of bears, of lightning, and we came through unscathed, stronger than ever.
Oh, and back to that running hiatus I mentioned, within a day of returning home I signed up for a local 50k. Yep, that’s how I roll — onward.